In part one of our journey about your photography (link), your assignment was to go on Instagram and find 20 to 25 images of the exact type of photos you want to be making; and then make a screen capture of them and save them to your camera roll.

Step Two (today): 

This 2nd step is harder, and it takes a lot longer, but it’s such an important part of this process. Step Two is you becoming an “image detective” where you analyze the images you chose in Step One, and break them down to their most basic building blocks. Why this takes longer is you MUST write your analysis down. You can do it on a text app, or the notes app on your phone, a spreadsheet if you’re really nerdy, or you can go “old school” and write it with a pen and paper. Don’t waste time on the method you choose — just choose one and get ready to write.

How to Analyze an Image

Well, here’s how I do it anyway, and I use a 10-point system to get me started. It starts with easy questions, and then it gets tougher, but the answers you write are more revealing:

  1. Is the image wide or tall? What basic type of lens do you think it was taken with?
  2. Is it natural light, flash, or both?
  3. What time of day was it most-likely taken? Dawn, Dusk, high-noon?
  4. What is the subject of the image? A person, a mountain, a stream, etc., and what is the overall setting of the image? Do you recognize the location?
  5. How would you describe the overall light in the photo? Describe the direction of the light. If it’s a flash, can you determine where the flash was positioned by looking in the subject’s eyes?
  6. Is the subject interesting or beautiful or intriguing in some way?
  7. Is there an overall tone to the image? Is it warm with many yellow and/or orange or red tones, or cold with more blue or cyan tones?
  8. Can I figure out the f/stop it was taken with (f/11? F/1.8?) by looking at the background?
  9. Explain the composition. Where is the subject in the frame and why do you think the photographer put the subject there?
  10. What kind of post-processing did the photographer apply to the image? Was it retouched? Is there a tint added? Were things added, removed, etc.

    BONUS QUESTION: If you had to choose one thing about this image that makes it special, what would that be?

That’s my starting list, and depending on the image, it might require me to write a few extra descriptive lines. OK, here’s how I would break down the image below:

  1. Is the image wide or tall? What basic type of lens do you think it was taken with?
    It’s wide. A long telephoto lens. Maybe a 300mm or 400mm. It’s pretty close, could even have used a tele-extender.
  2. Was it taken using natural light, flash, or both?
    Natural light outdoors.
  3. What time of day was it most-likely taken? Dawn, Dusk, high-noon?
    Daytime, but the light doesn’t look too harsh so I’m thinking late in the day.
  4. What is the main subject of the image? A person, a mountain, a stream, etc., and what is the overall setting of the image? Do you recognize the location?
    It’s the jet climbing out. There are mountains in the background so I imagine it’s taken somewhere out in the Western US. The setting is probably either an airshow or a Military base.
  5. How would you describe the overall light in the photo? Describe the direction of the light. If it’s a flash, can you determine where the flash was positioned by looking in the subject’s eyes?
    Soft light from the sun on a very cloudy day, so overall diffused light.
  6. Is the subject interesting or beautiful or intriguing in some way?
    Great subject (well, for aviation enthusiasts, anyway). It’s a Navy jet — an FA/18 EA Growler. I think what makes it better is that you see the thrust in the engines, and that it’s “clean” (the landing gear is already tucked away), and the soft light makes a big difference.
  7. Is there an overall tone to the image? Is it warm with many yellow and/or orange or red tones, or cold with more blue or cyan tones?
    It’s got a cool, overall bluish look to it, which makes sense since it’s up in the sky.
  8. Can I figure out the f/stop it was taken with (f/11? F/1.8?) by looking at the background?
    The background is a bit out of focus, so I imagine it was taken with a more wide-open f/stop, like f/4 or f/5.6 (I just went and checked, and I was wrong — it was taken at f/9. Now that I know that, I wish I had used f/5.6 to get those mountain more out of focus).
  9. Explain the composition. Where is the subject in the frame and why do you think the photographer put the subject there?
    The subject is off-center to the left a bit. I think the reason the photographer put it there is so there’s more room in front of the aircraft, so it doesn’t feel boxed-in to the viewer. Also, it’s just below the center vertically, so he wanted to show more sky.
  10. What kind of post-processing did the photographer apply to the image? Was it retouched? Is there a tint added? Were things added, removed, etc.
    Looks like there’s some vignetting around the outside. Also, it looks like either Dehaze or contrast was added in post. It also looks like it was sharpened in post.

BONUS QUESTION: If you had to choose one thing about this image that makes it special, what would that be?
For me, it’s that it’s a photo of a jet fighter. I think the subject is what makes me like the shot right from the start.

So, that’s one example, let’s do another. The previous shot was mine, so that made it easy — this next one is an image from Adobe Stock by photographer Eugenio Marongiu.

  1. Is the image wide or tall? What basic type of lens do you think it was taken with?
    It’s wide. The background is way out of focus, and if I had to guess a lens, it would be an 85mm f/1.4 or f/1.8. Could be a 70-200mm as well, but either way, it’s zoomed in tight.
  2. Was it taken using natural light, flash, or both?
    Natural light outdoors. Could have maybe used a fill flash, but I doubt it. More likely, the photographer just over-exposed the shot to fill in her face, or there’s a reflector just out of frame at her chest level.
  3. What time of day was it most-likely taken? Dawn, Dusk, high-noon?
    Daytime, but later in the day (based on where the sun is hitting her hair). Not dusk, but maybe 4:30 or 5:00 pm.
  4. What is the main subject of the image? A person, a mountain, a stream, etc., and what is the overall setting of the image? Do you recognize the location?
    It’s a portrait-style shot. Almost a headshot. Looks like it could have been taken at the beach. There’s almost a surf-vibe to the background surroundings. Also, could simply just be an outdoor park.
  5. How would you describe the overall light in the photo? Describe the direction of the light. If it’s a flash, can you determine where the flash was positioned by looking in the subject’s eyes?
    Overall, nice soft light on the subject’s face, because the sun is clearly behind her. Only a little bit of light is hitting her cheek on the left side of the image. Since the sun is behind her, there’s no direct sun on her face (except that cheek), so the light is soft and flattering.
  6. Is the subject interesting or beautiful or intriguing in some way?
    Great subject who is very photogenic. I would guess she is a professional lifestyle model. She has a beautiful smile and great skin, with great hair. The tilt of her head makes her look friendly — like somebody you’d have coffee with at Starbucks. The more I look at it, the more sure I am that she’s a professional model, not just a friend of the photographer.
  7. Is there an overall tone to the image? Is it warm with many yellow and/or orange or red tones, or cold with more blue or cyan tones?
    It’s got a warmish tone, with greens and yellows split between the highlights and shadows. Very popular look.
  8. Can I figure out the f/stop it was taken with (f/11? F/1.8?) by looking at the background?
    With the background being that out of focus, I’m thinking f/1.4, f/1.8 or f/2.8.
  9. Explain the composition. Where is the subject in the frame, and why do you think the photographer put the subject there?
    The subject is pretty much centered in the frame horizontally, but the top of her head is cut off at the top of the frame, so it has a very contemporary look.
  10. What kind of post-processing did the photographer apply to the image? Was it retouched? Is there a tint added? Were things added, removed, etc.
    There’s definitely some color toning added — either split-toning or some cinematic color grading, or maybe just a Lightroom Creative Profile has been applied that gives it its yellowish/greenish overall tint. I imagine some basic portrait retouching was done as well, removing blemishes, etc.

BONUS QUESTION: If you had to choose one thing about this image that makes it special, what would that be?
It’s the subject’s expression, which gives the whole image it’s vibe.

OK, that’s the idea. You’ve got a lot of work to do before Part 3 of our assignment (luckily, it’s easier, and I’m hoping to do it Friday if all goes as planned, but these days, it’s hard to make solid plans).

Please take good care of yourself; wash those hands for 20-seconds, look out for each other, help folks in our local community who need our help, and we’ll catch you all back here tomorrow for Travel Tuesday with Dave (which probably should be temporarily renamed, “Don’t Go Anywhere” with Dave).

Good luck on your assignment,

-Scott

About The Author

Scott is a Photographer, bestselling Author, Host of "The Grid" weekly photography show; Editor of Photoshop User magazine; Lightroom Guy; KelbyOne.com CEO; struggling guitarist. Loves Classic Rock and his arch-enemy is Cilantro. Devoted husband, dad to two super awesome kids, and pro-level babysitter to two crazy doggos.

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